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Torquay-born Agatha Christie's love of Devon

Agatha would plan her novels in secondhand exercise books and jotters. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive Trust
Agatha would plan her novels in secondhand exercise books and jotters. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive Trust

The queen of crime, Torquay-born Agatha Christie loved her home county, and a classic book which explores her love of Devon and the homes she had here, including Ashfield and Greenway, has a new and updated edition.

According to her grandson, Mathew Prichard, Devon played two especially significant contributions to Agatha Christie’s life – firstly as being the place where she learned to write, and secondly, it was where the idea of the detective story first emerged and where her famous character, Hercule Poirot, started his life.

Great British Life: Mathew outside Greenway with his mother Rosalind, Agatha's daughter, his stepfather Anthony, and Agatha. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive TrustMathew outside Greenway with his mother Rosalind, Agatha's daughter, his stepfather Anthony, and Agatha. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive Trust

Mathew, the son of Agatha’s daughter Rosalind, makes this comment in his foreword to the new edition of Agatha Christie at Home, by Hilary Macaskill. This updated book, which contains many new illustrations has been described as ‘a wonderful, inspirational and essential book for Christie-lovers', by historian and author Lucy Worsley.

It is an illuminating read about the world-famous crime writer and the various places she called home, but it also gives some fascinating details about the areas of Devon with which she is associated. Arguably, many people, particularly in South Devon, will know various bits about her links to the area, but this book brings it all together in a detailed and personal way.

Great British Life: A family picnic on Dartmoor shows Agatha with Rosalind, Mathew and a family friend, Oliver Gurney. Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive TrustA family picnic on Dartmoor shows Agatha with Rosalind, Mathew and a family friend, Oliver Gurney. Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive Trust

There are some wonderful photos, of Agatha roller skating with her friends on Princess Pier in Torquay; picnicking with the family (including Mathew) on Dartmoor; in costume for a performance at Cockington Court and, one I particularly love, shows her painting the fireplace in her bedroom at Greenway.

I hadn’t realised how much of a home decorator and renovator she was, and it’s her love of houses (she owned a total of eight in the 1930s) that lies at the core of the book.

Hilary describes how, as a child, Agatha loved to make houses under tables and when she was given a dolls' house it became ‘one of her proudest possessions’, so much so that she asked her mother for a second dolls' house. Thinking it was ‘a little excessive’, a compromise was reached where the house was placed on a cupboard which was wallpapered and then became an ‘extension’ - which Agatha then proceeded to fill with furniture.

Agatha’s childhood home was Ashfield, a villa on the edge of Torquay, which remained dear to her – she even tried to save it from demolition in the 1960s, an attempt that failed.

Greenway, now in the care of the National Trust, is the Devon home most associated with Agatha. She found it in 1938, ‘the most beautiful property on the Dart – the ideal house, a dream house’.

Great British Life: Agatha's dolls' house with its extension beneath. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive TrustAgatha's dolls' house with its extension beneath. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive Trust

She would spend her summers there, until she died in 1976, recounts Mathew, who would also spend his family holidays at Greenway. In the book he recalls one of his earliest memories of ‘rushing downstairs far too early in the morning with my two soft cuddly elephants, Butterfly and Flutterby, and being told fantasies about their life in the jungle by Nima in bed’.

Agatha Christie at Home reveals memories and recollections of Agatha and also those of the people who knew her, family, friends and people who worked for her –many of whom are from Devon.

Great British Life: Agatha (centre) in a feathered hat, roller-skaing on Princess Pier with her friends, the Lucy family. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive TrustAgatha (centre) in a feathered hat, roller-skaing on Princess Pier with her friends, the Lucy family. Photo: Mathew Prichard and the Christie Archive Trust

There’s a chapter devoted to Greenway itself, and another which looks at the local area, the villages of Galmpton and Churston, revealing Agatha’s involvement in the local community. Hilary follows in the footsteps of Agatha, visiting these places, including the church at Churston where there is a stained glass window over the altar, made by Devon artist James Paterson, who was commissioned by Agatha. Hilary outlines the complicated story and ‘frantic activity behind the scenes’ that went into its installation. It’s an illuminating account, just one of many entertaining insights into the world of Agatha Christie that populate the book.

The final chapter looks at the legacy left by Agatha Christie and her books, which is phenomenal. She is the best selling novelist of all time and through all her years of fame and travels, she always came home to Devon, never wavering in her attachment to the county.

All images are taken from Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill, £30, Pimpernel Press

Great British Life: Agatha Christie at Home book Agatha Christie at Home book



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